Water Watch: Where You Want It, and Where You Don’t

While April showers might bring flowers, when water is concerned, a homeowner should be on high alert. Having water where and when you want it can be a blessing, but it must be properly controlled and monitored so that you are fully aware of its presence in your environment.

When moisture is not dealt with appropriately homes can become contaminated with molds, rot and other issues that can be costly to repair. Floors can buckle, doors and windows can warp, and electrical issues can occur. Yet we all want and need water for our homes. Cooking, cleaning, gardening, and other pleasures like fountains and water features in landscaping, hot tubs and pools, pets, all require water and as homeowners we should understand everything we can about how water works in our homes.

Generally, we have two jobs: First we need to understand how to manage water and moisture from outside forces like rain and groundwater that might threaten our structure. Secondly, we need to understand the water that we choose to bring into our homes and use for landscapes through plumbing systems.

Rain should be guided off the roof and into gutters that drain away from the home and foundation. The condition of the roof must be monitored and maintained so that leaks don’t occur; if leaks do occur they should be fixed as soon as possible. Gutters should be cleaned and downspouts fixed with extensions as needed to ensure that water is guided appropriately and safely away from foundations, crawlspaces, and basements. Windows and doors should seal properly and roof areas that collect debris should be swept free of leaves, pine needles, moss or other elements that impede water flow.

When groundwater is present, measures should be taken to ensure that water isn’t collecting near the foundation, under the house, or in the basement. If water collects in any of these locations, steps should be taken immediately to correct pooling/collection issues to prevent damage. Curtain drains or culverts may aid this process, but getting qualified help to assess the situation and help in engineering a solution is advised. Look at the entire system to ensure that you are not creating more problems for yourself or other people as you seek to improve an immediate issue.

In areas where groundwater might enter basements or crawlspaces, consider keeping a sump pump handy in case of emergency. If your home relies on a septic system, ensure that there is a tank alarm and that it is in working order. Should your septic system fail, this alarm can alert you of high water in the system prior to a release of sewage into the environment.

Sometimes we do invite water into our homes. Running water is considered to be a critical factor in determining whether a home is suitable for habitation. Plumbing that carries water, whether it be clean or waste water, represents one of the most important systems in your home. Like the electrical system and the heating and cooling system, the plumbing is a system that has mechanical parts that can fail. Excessive heat or cold, age, the quality of the pipes, and water quality are all factors that can contribute to the overall health of your plumbing.

Understanding how water gets into your home and your responsibilities around that is another area to investigate. If you are on a private or shared well, public water system, a water district, or have other arrangement for getting your water, it is critical that you understand who is responsible for the pipes that bring water to your home and how your system generally works. Do you know who to call in the event of a water emergency? Failure in pipes that bring water to your home can lead to expensive water bills, property damage, and disrupt your landscape if repairs require uncovering them. Knowing where water pipes are located leading to your home helps you avoid damaging them when driving heavy machinery or vehicles on your property.

When pipes, faucets, toilets, or appliances that use water inside our home begin to leak, there is opportunity for water to make its way into areas where damage may occur. Periodically checking the seal around your bathtub surround and shower, sinks, toilets, and grout in tiled areas that receive water can prevent undetected water damage. Don’t forget to inspect your water heater regularly. Many hot water heaters hold as much as 50 gallons of water, and should they fail, could result in substantial water damage. If you are unsure about the condition of your water heater or its connections, have a plumber inspect it for you.

Check dish washers, clothes washers, ice-makers and other appliances that are connected to water. Be vigilant and do an annual inspection in and around your home, and you might catch a problem before it starts. Know how to turn off water to an area or to your home if needed, and repair leaks and seals as soon as you find signs of deterioration.

Do you have a fish tank? These habitats can contain many gallons of water – and that is water that should not be ignored. Ensure that fish tanks are secure and non-leaking, and inspect them periodically. If you live in a part of the country prone to earthquakes, or if you have small children or active pets, take extra precautions to prevent tipping or hitting of the glass. Consider the water issues around filling, emptying and cleaning these tanks, as well.

In areas where there are freezing temperatures, ensure that pipes are protected from cold and that systems can be drained if needed to keep pipes from bursting. Insulation or heat-tape around pipes that carry water in colder climates is an investment worth making. Heat lamps can be another powerful tool to have handy should your area face an unusual cold snap and you are dealing with frozen pipes. Many people advocate leaving one faucet in the house running slightly because running water will keep the pipes free of ice. If you are unsure about where to place insulation, heat-tape or a heat lamp, get professional advice from a plumber.

We also utilize water outside our homes in the form of watering systems, pools, fountains, hose bibs, holding tanks, rain barrels and other garden features. Water in these situations can be a wonderful thing, though we should also ensure that it is well contained, and able to be drained and cleaned as needed. Stagnant water can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes, thought to carry West Nile Virus in some areas, so ensure that there is adequate flow and pay attention to the overall health of the water you collect close to your home.

If any of these outdoor elements fail, what is the consequence? Could a leaking fountain create slippery walkways? Ensure that proper safety precautions are in effect should water in or around your home potentially pose a threat to children, pets, or others.

Finally, water is not the only moisture to consider – some moisture can actually come from the air. Steam from showers and cooking and even our own breathing can affect the air and health of our homes. Ensure that mold and mildew don’t take hold in your living space by having proper ventilation in your home, bathrooms and kitchens. Excessive moisture in the air in wetter climates can be removed with a dehumidifier. However, don’t forget to empty the reservoir in your dehumidifier to prevent it from overflowing.